Taking our oldest daughter to college was momentous. The weeks leading up to her departure were nerve-wracking, sad and stressful. The thought of saying goodbye left a lump in my throat, and yet part of me needed her to just leave already so we could all just move on with our lives.
Whoever wrote the amazing television series Parenthood was definitely a parent in real life. I recently re-watched the episode when Haddie, the oldest child of Kristina and Adam Braverman, is leaving for college. Nothing I have ever read on the topic feels as close to real life as the way the show depicts saying goodbye to your college freshman.
Here are the 4 ways Kristina (and the writers of Parenthood) got saying goodbye right:
1. The Coat
After years of living in sunny California, Haddie is going to brave her first East Coast winter, and all Kristina wants to do is take Haddie to buy a warm coat. It’s so symbolic of the mother-daughter relationship: Haddie is going off to the unknown, somewhere far from the warmth and comfort of the home she grew up in, and Kristina wants to buy her a coat so she can be cozy and safe from the harsh elements of the real world. How many parents are running around Bed, Bath & Beyond or Target these last weeks of summer, trying to make sure their college-bound kids have everything they need? It is our last chance to prepare our child for what lies ahead.
2. The Dinner
Kristina wants the whole family to go to dinner at their favorite restaurant. It’s just for one evening, and a few mere hours is all she is asking for…but Haddie wants to be with her friends instead. She begrudgingly goes to dinner, but when they get there, a series of unfortunate events makes the whole night one big debacle. I remember with my own daughter, I planned for a family barbecue the night before she left. I asked my husband to go pick up burgers at the butcher, but he insisted that the ones we already had in the freezer were perfectly fine. They were not! I remember being in tears that night that my daughter’s “last” meal at home had literally left a bad taste of freezer burn in her mouth.
3. Waiting Up
Adam finds Kristina waiting up for Haddie, who is out late with her friends. He asks her why, and she insists that she cannot sleep until Haddie is home safe and sound, even though Kristina knows that Haddie won’t even want to say two words to her when she gets home. I have done the same thing, enduring sleep deprivation just to hear my daughter come through the door and mutter the words, “Goodnight, Mom.”
4. The Final Goodbye
Adam and Kristina say goodbye to Haddie at the airport. She gives them a quick hug and then runs to the security line. Adam and Kristina fight back tears and then turn away as they realize their daughter no longer needs them. But then Haddie comes running back, and the ugly cry tears flow. So real, so raw, so true—I could cry just thinking about it.
So many times, fictional families (and real families on Facebook) depict moments like these as scripted perfection. But saying goodbye to your child isn’t done with a ton of perfect last moments, a few strategically placed tears and some slow fade-out music. It’s more like tons of moments that go completely wrong, followed by some ugly crying when the snot drips from your nose and then being unable to find a radio station without static on your six-hour drive home without your child. But most importantly, remember that saying goodbye to your college freshman is not a series finale; it is merely a hiatus until the full cast is back together for Thanksgiving and then winter break.